City leaders in Amsterdam are considering ways to reinvent travel to the Dutch capital as pandemic restrictions ease, with plans to emphasize the city’s cultural amenities while playing down its reputation for partying, sex, and cannabis tourism. Dutch officials began easing restrictions in April, leading to a gradual return of the tourists who were responsible for approximately 10 percent of the Amsterdam economy before the coronavirus outbreak.
Officials in Amsterdam temporarily shut down the city’s famed “coffee shops” that sell marijuana in March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic swept across Europe, allowing them to reopen to provide take-out service only as lockdowns continued. Travel restrictions caused tourism in the city, much of which is centered on Amsterdam’s bars, coffee shops, and famous Red Light District, to plummet.
But as tourism begins to revive, city leaders would like to welcome more visitors interested in Amsterdam’s art museums, history, and other cultural attractions while discouraging hard-partying tourists who negatively impact the quality of life for residents. Unlike many other popular tourist destinations, tourism is only part of the city’s economy. Ninety percent of Amsterdam’s economy is derived from industries other than tourism, giving the city options to plan for the sector’s resurgence.
“Amsterdam is in a lucky position where it could really use the pandemic to try some new things,” said, adding, “This is the time to experiment.”
Last month, Amsterdam’s City Hall launched a publicity campaign with a price tag of €100,000 (about $118,000) to encourage visitors interested in the city’s food, art, and nature instead of those looking for sex, alcohol, and cannabis.
“If tourists only want to smoke weed, drink too much alcohol, and visit the Red Light District, please stay home,” Victor Everhardt, Amsterdam’s deputy mayor, told reporters by email.
Cannabis Tourism Restrictions Proposed in Amsterdam Before the Pandemic Began
Even before the pandemic took its hold on Europe, Amsterdam civic leaders were looking for ways to change the city’s reputation as a party destination. Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema proposed putting restrictions on cannabis tourism, citing research that showed a third of visitors would come less often if they were banned from the coffee shops. The proposal came as city leaders struggled to reduce congestion that has plagued the Wallen and Singel areas, which have a concentration of red-light businesses and cannabis shops.
In a survey commissioned by Halsema and conducted by the city’s Research, Information, and Statistics Office, researchers determined that 34% of those who come to Wallen and Singel would visit less often if foreigners were banned from coffee shops. The figure was even higher for tourists from the U.K.
“For British visitors, coffee shops by far are the most frequently mentioned main reason to come to Amsterdam (33%),” the agency said. “They cite walking or cycling through the city less often as the main reason (21%) than the average (32%) and, on the contrary, more often indicate that a cheap trip was the main reason (11% compared with 6% on average).”
City leaders have also proposed moving Amsterdam’s Red Light District from the center of the city to its outskirts. But some city residents are unsure if efforts to reign in partying tourists will be successful.
“The drunk tourists will always be here. They were already here in the 17th century when sailors were getting drunk in the same bars. It’s part of Amsterdam’s society,” said Berber Hidma, a 34-year-old tour guide.
Tour guide Louke Spigt, however, supports efforts to encourage tourists interested in the city’s cultural offerings over its opportunities to party.
“The problems are the uncontrollable groups of drinking Brits, the low-budget tourists who throw all their waste on the streets,” said Spigt. “We want other (kinds of) tourists.”
A.J. Herrington is a San Diego-based freelance writer covering cannabis news, business, and culture.